Every four years, for more than 20 years, my life during this autumnal season centered around the Iowa caucuses. A supposed electoral bellwether, the caucuses require a lot of attention from the candidates. Iowans are apparently a demanding and slightly self-centered lot. Not content with watching TV debates or attending rallies, they expect the candidates to come to them. So it was that I spent a lot of Halloweens in someone’s crowded Iowa kitchen surrounded by other Iowans listening to various losing candidates ranging from Bob Dole and Bill Bradley to Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton.

Let me say first how very glad I am that that particular phase of my life is over. After around the third pig farm I attended with the supremely charmless Howard Dean (who had clearly never seen a live pig in his life), I called my husband on my cell: “Four years from now if I call you from a bus rolling through Iowa, I want you to get a gun and come and find me and shoot me in the head.” Fortunately, he pays little attention to most of my more dramatic statements, because four years later I was indeed on a bus, following Hillary Clinton through still more pig farms and a whole lot of pumpkin patches.

There was, however, one Iowa trip that stands out as thoroughly enjoyable. Former senator and Knicks basketball star Bill Bradley was running against then-veep Al Gore in the Democratic primaries. Though I didn’t agree with a lot of his policies, Bradley himself was smart as hell, possessed of an excellent—and extremely dry—sense of humor, and was determined to do it his way. The first day I joined him, at a small airport near some town or another, he was sitting in a folding patio chair in the middle of the runway, catching some rays with a reflector behind his head.

Then there was his refusal to talk about religion. At a taping of “Face the Nation” in Davenport, Bob Schieffer said that while he undertood that Bradley didn’t want to make religion an issue in the campaign, “Couldn’t you at least tell us whether or not you believe in God?” Bradley’s answer, a succinct “Nope,” surprised even the usually unflappable Shieffer, not to mention the candidate’s staff, which uttered a collective moan.

My very favorite moment came on a crisp Halloween afternoon. We were on one of those endless tours, going from kitchen to kitchen, backyard to backyard. Our last house was completely decked out, and the host, a guy named Jim I think, was beyond atwitter. The front porch was covered with piles of pumpkins, big bunches of dried corn hung from the eaves, and artful cutouts of witches and ghosts adorned the front lawn. As the manic Jim ushered us inside, he ran through a long list of refreshments, from cider to Coke to hot chocolate, that were on hand for the pleasure of his distinguished guest. Bradley, wearing the world’s most imperceptible smile, let the poor man to run through the whole thing, waited a half a beat, and then asked: “Got any Scotch?” While aides scrambled to assure the poor guy that the candidate was only joking, Bradley proceeded to the waiting crowd in the back garden where much of the lawn was roped off. “Hello,” he said into the mike, “I see Jim here is saving the best grass for himself.”

I already knew the laconic Bradley was going to lose. He was too honest, too funny and ironic, entirely too much himself. When he talked policy, he talked in long narratives, not sound bites. Bill Clinton made like a tent revivalist in African-American churches; he fell to his knees and let preachers lay hands on him after news of his long transgression with Gennifer Flowers. Bradley went to an A.M.E. church in Iowa and told a long story about an epiphany he’d had in a small plane over Montana, while his staff, once again, moaned.

Every election year we say we want authentic, that awful overused word. We say we want honesty and a refusal to kowtow—to lobbyists, to religious groups, to the polls. And every election year we seem to change our minds. A guy giving one word answers on a Sunday talk show or slyly asking a supporter for some Scotch has about as much chance of winning as the Great Pumpkin has of finally showing up. But, like Linus, I will wait.

About Julia Reed

Julia Reed is a columnist at Garden & Gun magazine and a contributing editor at Elle Décor. She also contributes to The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, and The New York Times, and makes frequent appearances on MSNBC. She is the author of five books, including But Mama Always Put Vodka in the Sangria, Adventures in Eating, Drinking and Making Merry and One Man’s Folly, The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood.

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